Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Church Museum Display on Joseph Smith

LDS exhibit set to open
Bicentennial display explores the life and work of Joseph Smith
By Carrie A. Moore
Deseret Morning News
      As one of the first official bicentennial celebrations of LDS Church founder Joseph Smith, the Museum of Church History and Art on Saturday will open a new exhibit focused on his life and work.
      Born Dec. 23, 1805, in Sharon, Vt., the man that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints revere as God's vehicle for restoring Christ's original gospel to Earth will be celebrated through documents and artifacts, some of which have never before been publicly displayed.
      Titled, "Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration," the exhibit draws extensively from the LDS Church's own library and archives, from the Harold B. Lee Library Special Collections at Brigham Young University, and from the Community of Christ Special Collections Library in Independence, Mo.
      Jenny Lund, senior educator at the Museum of Church History and Art, said while the one-gallery display is largely comprised of manuscripts and documents, it includes a handful of personal items owned by Smith, including a watch and a book borrowed from a private collector. Replicas of medical instruments, like those used during a legendary leg operation Smith endured as a 7-year-old boy, are also part of the display.
      Other items: an original Book of Mormon manuscript page containing Smith's handwriting; a family record book used by Smith's grandparents to record his birth; artifacts uncovered during excavation and reconstruction of the Smith log home site; stone fragments from the Nauvoo Temple baptismal font; wall fragments from Liberty Jail, where Smith was imprisoned; a first-edition Book of Mormon that belonged to early church member Martin Harris; a fragment from the vest Smith wore when he was martyred, as well as the Nauvoo Legion cloak he wore.
      The cloak "is very fragile," Lund said, adding it has only been on exhibit twice before for short periods of time. She said there was no attempt to track down additional personal items, in part because "there's not a lot out there in private hands that we know of. It may be out there, but we just don't know where it is."
      Lund said the Community of Christ — formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — is mounting a similar exhibit on Smith's life, but has chosen not to borrow items from the LDS Church based on insurance risks. Most of the items that church has pertaining to Smith are on permanent display at church headquarters in Missouri, she said.
      The items excavated from the Smiths' log home "give you a real sense of life at the time the family lived there" and include shards of pottery and dishware, she said.
      "You start to get a mental image of family life and the context in which he grew up," Lund said.
      Yet it is the documents that Lund expects will attract the most attention, though "typical museum visitors don't usually like that kind of thing."
      When museum officials began working on the exhibit more than a year ago, they formed several focus groups of church members to determine which items were of most interest.
      "They told us they were most interested in original manuscripts and documents — things that make an impact on their personal lives. I think they are seeing those manuscripts as their link to Joseph Smith through the scriptures (he produced). They see them as important and pertinent."
      Lund said the exhibit will not include clothing worn by Smith and his brother, Hyrum, when they were killed by a mob while jailed in Carthage, Ill., in 1844. Those items are owned by Eldred G. Smith, former LDS Church patriarch and a descendant of the brothers, who regularly displays them during presentations he makes to groups of church members.
      Though museum officials have no way of knowing how many patrons the exhibit will draw, they believe it will be among the most popular ever on display there.
      "We're already taking reservations from a lot of tour groups," Lund said.
      The artifacts will be on display through Jan. 15, 2006, and all information will be presented in both English and Spanish. The museum is located at 45 N. West Temple. Its hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and most holidays. Admission is free.


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